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5 Things Your Doctor is Not Telling You

Like Santa Claus, they know when you’ve been bad or good.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Ever wonder what your doctor is really thinking? You might not like it. "We want our doctors to be perfect. We want them to know all the answers, to never say the wrong thing, and above all, to always, always, be there for us," says Michelle Au, MD, MPH. "We want our doctors to be superhuman. But the fact of it is: they're not. Doctors are not perfect, they're not beyond mortal concerns. After working 30 hours straight, they get tired, and that interferes with their ability to work well." Here are five things your doctor is most probably not telling you. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Doctors Know When You're Lying

middle-aged man chatting with doctor

Doctors have years of experience dealing with patients who may not be telling the entire truth about their (bad) habits and unhealthy lifestyles. "People might fail to disclose a serious risk factor like sexual practice or IV sharing, but the most dangerous is not being honest about what medications they are taking," says Glen Stream, MD. "Sometimes patients see more than one physician because they try to compartmentalize their health issues or view them to be unrelated. Perhaps they're taking a psychiatric medication that they don't tell you about and you're seeing them for their blood pressure. You could prescribe something that could have a potentially fatal complication."


Doctors Could Be Biased Against You

talk to doctor

One study showed that 40% of physicians admitted bias against patients based on factors such as body weight or emotional issues, a number some experts think is actually much higher. "It's troubling, but not altogether unexpected," says Dr. Joseph R. Betancourt, director of the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "I think 40% is probably an underestimation, because there is a component of subconscious bias. Human beings in general have these (subconscious) stereotypes, so it's hard to believe it couldn't be 80% or 90%… Doctors have been trained to believe that we make decisions based on symptoms and science and that personal characteristics don't impact us."


Doctors Are Dealing With Serious Burnout

Doctor and nurse are moving injured patient from an accident on a gurney to the emergency operating room.

They're not going to discuss it with patients, but many doctors and other health professionals are dealing with significant burnout after years of pandemic-related stress. "None of us want to admit weakness," says Kevin Hopkins, MD. "Even in physician training, whether it's med school or residency, that weakness is beat out of you, where you're sort of expected just to keep your head down and keep grinding. And you can do that for a while, but it feels like I'm an NFL football player and I've gotten up for the Super Bowl—it's the biggest game of my life and everything that I've done education-wise has prepared me for this time. Yet it's the Super Bowl that never ends. You can do anything for a defined period of time when there's an endpoint, but this has now gone on for nearly two years and we don't see an endpoint. You just are exhausted and overwhelmed all the time."


Doctors Are Really Afraid of Getting Sued

Distraught senior man sitting at hospital waiting room while female doctor is holding his hand and comforting him

Doctors might suggest unnecessary tests and screenings because they're afraid of getting sued for medical malpractice, experts warn. "It suggests that physicians change their behavior in response to liability considerations, but they don't do it in a very calibrated way," says Michelle Mello, a professor of law and health policy at Stanford, who has studied medical malpractice. "They tend to make a lot of changes that don't result in better patient care."


Doctors Have Compassion Fatigue

couple listening to doctor in his office

Many doctors are experiencing compassion fatigue with patients they believe are undermining their own health—for example by refusing COVID-19 vaccinations. "This is maybe the root of the compassion fatigue associated with COVID-19," says Jazbeen Ahmad, MD. "All too often, physicians hold the fate of their patients close to their hearts. We want them to succeed, and when they make poor choices, we feel we have failed them because we did not help them see the importance of quitting smoking, following a diabetic diet, abstaining from alcohol or drugs. COVID-19 is the new preventable illness that we will see people get horribly sick from and worry, where did we fail them? Why did they not listen when we pleaded and begged them to get vaccinated. Not only to protect others but to protect themselves and their families."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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